New paper: Examining the technological and pedagogical elements of select open courseware

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I’m pleased that my colleague Dr. Michael McNally (Ualberta SLIS) and I have published a new paper in First Monday titled “Examining the technological and pedagogical elements of select open courseware.”

The paper is non-traditional in both its focus and method, but it’s a step toward answering some research questions Michael and I have. Specifically, what does openness in education mean, what are the factors that constitute openness, and what does openness look like on a spectrum? In our previous paper (a thought experiment) we addressed these questions from a philosophical perspective. In this new paper, we wanted to know how ‘open’ open courseware (OCW) actually is. We focused on open courseware because we feel it’s an important component of open education, but it’s often overshadowed by open textbooks. This was a small study, where we randomly selected ten open courses – five from MIT and five from TU Delft. The sample is too small to generalize to all open courseware. Analyzing all the course materials in this sample was challenging, so a larger research team (or narrower focus) would be necessary to replicate this approach across a larger sample. We selected courses from these two institutions because of their similar focus on STEM; though, both institutions do have courses from other disciplines. Ultimately, we got a good mix of courses after running our randomizer formula in Excel. We analyzed the openness of each course using the framework we proposed in our previous paper. So, this paper is part analysis and part proof of concept. Below are our research questions from the paper.

Question 1: Based on the eight factors of openness in the framework, how open are the sampled OCW?

Question 2: Are the sampled OCW adequately designed for educator reuse or adaptation?

There are quite a few findings, but I’ll give a couple of highlights. First, we found the framework (called ‘Open Enough’) functioned reasonably well as a rubric for OCW evaluation, though it had some shortcomings. We proposed a revised version of the framework in the discussion. We also found that despite the name ‘open courseware’, the openness of these courses was a mixed bag, at least when evaluating them using our eight factors of analysis. Our results and discussion sections are long, but the paper includes a summary of the findings.

The level of openness across the sampled OCW was inconsistent. From a copyright perspective, the OCW were mixed as they employed an institutional licence across all content — a CC-NC-SA licence. In terms of adherence to accessibility standards, MIT courses were most open while TU Delft were closed. We determined accessibility openness by reviewing each OCW platform’s statement regarding which accessibility standards were observed. From a usability perspective, we concluded that TU Delft has the more modern interface, but MIT courses were more navigable. All courses (except one) were categorized as closed since the course content was offered in one language. The majority of support costs (course readings) were proprietary and many of the courses relied heavily on paid books. Two TU Delft courses were the exception to this rule; one course’s readings were completely custom (presumably written by the instructor), and another course made its proprietary ebook openly available (albeit with a closed licence). All of the sampled courses were very open in terms of digital distribution. Each course could be located using several federated OER search engines. Surprisingly, the sampled courses were categorized as closed in terms of file format, as all relied heavily on PDF content. We struggled with the cultural considerations factor, given the large volume of content and the factor’s subjective nature. Courses were split between closed and mixed/most open. Course content dictated this conclusion, as STEM courses materials were determined to be more culturally applicable, broadly speaking.

Given the limited editability of the course materials, we concluded that the sampled OCW were better suited for learner consumption rather than educator reuse. The lack of editability was surprising and severely limits these courses’ utility outside their originating institutions. These findings highlight the importance of prioritizing OCW for editability and adaptability, in addition to making them discoverable to the broader community.

Since writing this paper, MIT OpenCourseWare has redesigned its website which presents more opportunities for analysis, particularly usability and discoverability. This was an interesting project to be part of and I’m glad it’s finally published. I’d like to thank First Monday for publishing this piece, and the paper is available as an open access article from the journal website.

Citation: Christiansen, E., & McNally, M. (2022, Oct 5). Examining the technical and pedagogical elements of select open courseware. First Monday, 27(10).

Manuscript and figures